BBC blocks BNP councillors from 'Question Time'

Nigel Morris,Political Correspondent
Tuesday 18 February 2003 01:00

The BBC blocked a British National Party representative yesterday from appearing on an episode of Question Time to be recorded in the party's stronghold of Burnley.

The ban came as the Government revealed fears the far-right party will gain a foothold in the European Parliament next year by winning one of the seats for North-west England.

Speculation had intensified that a BNP representative would appear on the Question Time panel on 3 April when the programme comes from Burnley, where it has three councillors.

A BBC spokesman said the guest list was yet to be confirmed but said he would be "amazed" if the BNP was invited. He said: "The politicians tend to come from parties in Westminster, the European Parliament or the devolved governments of the regions. They don't seem to go down to local councillors."

A BNP spokesman said the decision was "offensive and upsetting". He said: "Ten thousand people in Burnley voted for the BNP. They represent part of the electorate."

Meanwhile, a government minister predicted yesterday that the party would capitalise on its support in east Lancashire to win a seat in the European elections in 2004.

The BNP has used a mixture of pavement politics and hard-right rhetoric to achieve a breakthrough in Burnley and in nearby Blackburn, where it has one councillor. The party, which has played on the fears of white working-class communities over asylum, also put in strong performances in Oldham.

In the European elections in 1999, the BNP attracted 13,587 votes, 1.3 per cent of those cast. But Labour MPs in the region fear it could win support of 10 to 15 per cent of the votes next year, enough under the proportional election system to secure a seat in Strasbourg.

One minister told The Independent: "Even if they stand still, it will happen. They are really digging in in some areas. You go canvassing in areas that used to be ours and people all say: 'We're BNP now'."

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